According to the fevered rantings of Islamist fanatics and far-right demagogues alike, the West faces the grave threat of “Islamisation.” This seemingly made-up word means, essentially, the conversion of any given society over to an Islamic one based upon Shariah law.
Multiculturalism, the doctrine that governs Britain and Europe and which grew out of a war upon their values from within by allowing the values of minorities to trump the majority, has been applied by the west to appease an ideology that has declared war upon its values from without.
Echoing this sentiment, militant Islamists such as Anjem Choudary, head of al-Muhajiroun, has stated that “we do not integrate into Christianity. We will ensure that one day you to will happily integrate into the Sharia Islamic law.” In rhetoric startlingly similar to that used by Phillips and her co-thinkers, he eagerly envisions “the flag of Shariah flying high over 10 Downing Street.”
But is there actually any chance of this happening? As I will argue, the likelihood is almost non-existent, for a variety of reasons.
Islamism, a term I will use interchangeable with militant or political Islam, is an ideology which holds that Islam is not only a religion but also a complete military, political, social, and economic system. The idea is hardly unique, as secularism – the separation of church and state – is a relatively modern concept, and the Torah is as adamant as the Qu’ran of the need to assert God’s law on the earth.
Islamists reject these terms, as well as the now largely defunct phrase “Islamic fundamentalism,” arguing that “if Islam is a way of life, how can we say that those who want to live by its principles in legal, social, political, economic, and political spheres of life are not Muslims, but Islamists and believe in Islamism, not [just] Islam?” However, the same argument could be made for Orthodox Judaism or Christian Fundamentalists, against moderates, modernisers, and reformers. The fact remains that, in the West at least, the moderates vastly outnumber the fanatics in all the major religious groups.
And thus we reach the heart of the argument against the idea that militant Islam could ever conquer the world.
The politics of reaction
Islamism is a reactionary movement. It first rose to prominence with the failure of secular Arab nationalism in the face of ultra-right wing Zionism during the Six Day War. Later, the United States deliberately fostered the ideology’s most infamous proponents when it trained, armed, and funded the Mujahadeen, from the splintering of which Osama bin Laden would later found al-Qaeda.
In the Middle East, Islamist groups have been forced beyond reactionary politics by the severe weight of oppression the people there face. Hence, Hamas gained power in Gaza not for their rocket attacks but for the grassroots social and health programs they offered to a suffering and dying people. Likewise, popular opinion has seen the group largely abandon the position that seeks the destruction of Israel and adopt the two-state consensus that only the US and Israel reject.
This does not mean, by any stretch, that Hamas are a positive organisation. They remain a fanatical religious group whose values of patriarchy, authoritarianism, and heterosexism are utterly at odds with any concept of liberty and equality. That they have adopted these positions is more a testament to the fact that the Palestinian people want a peaceful end to their own oppression. However, the fact that Hamas have power and influence at all is a testament to the level of reaction fostered by fifty years of Israeli aggression and apartheid.
Beyond the Middle East, Islamist reaction lacks the popular activism forced upon it by people in Palestine and elsewhere. For example, whilst we see British and European Muslims turning to militant groups in outrage over illegal western aggression or discrimination against Muslims by the state and media, we do not see these groups do anything about it. Like fascist and other reactionary movements, they feed upon peoples’ genuine fear and anxieties not in order to offer a solution but in order to promote their own agenda.
This is precisely why moderate Muslims far outrank Islamists in the Western world. Whilst “radical clerics” may be able to feed off a sense of hatred and alienation amongst the disaffected, non-militant groups are making serious moves towards challeging both bigotry towards Muslims and bigotry within the Muslim faith. British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD), the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, the LBGT Muslim organisation Al-Fatiha, and the Islamic Reform Movement are just a few examples of such groups.
In order to implement a radical change in society, you need to take one of two approaches.
If that change is compatible with the present organisation, you need to build a broad-based reform movement that will continually pressure those in power until it achieves its goals. As a society built upon Sharia is fundamentally alien to the values of the West – whether you define them as Christianity, secularism, free democracy, or predatory capitalism and the profit of the few at the expense of the many – it could not be achieved by Shariah even if it wasn’t an extreme minority position.
The second alternative is revolution. However, in order to have a revolution, one needs to build a solid grassroots movement with the potential for galvanising an entire population. Militant Islam in the West, robbed of that initiative by moderate groups, and devoid of popular appeal, is in no position to do any such thing.
A radical left response to Islamism
If indeed militant Islam is not a threat to civilisation as we know it, how do we respond to it? Some might suggest that it is best ignored, and that by denying it the oxygen of publicity we can make it go away. In my opinion, this would be a grave mistake.
Those who propigate the ideology are, as previously mentioned, feeding upon the grievances of ordinary Muslims, particularly alienated youth, in order to further their agenda. They also draw strength from the venom directed at them by organised fascism, which appears to confirm their message to the disaffected. At the same time, fascists use the pronouncements of the Islamists as proof of the message they offer, also a message of reaction to the disaffected.
As such, the idea that “we should just laugh at these clowns” is a dangerous one. Not only does it do nothing to stop ordinary Muslims with genuine grievances being drawn into a movement of hateful reaction, but it actively fuels fascist recruitment. By not actively opposing them, we are allowing the far-right to draw in more people who are (rightly) appalled by the message of Islamism by saying that they are the only ones who oppose it, with everyone else being an apologist.
What we need, instead, is a opposition to militant Islam that is born of radical, grassroots activism, and which opposes racism, capitalism, and imperialism, as well as misogyny and religious bigotry. I covered this stance in more depth in The Question of Islam, and have written serveral articles about the practical aplications of such a stance on Truth, Reason, & Liberty [here, here, and here].
By adopting such a platform, and on the basis of bottom-up organisation, it is possible to offer physical and ideological resistance to militant Islam and fascism. More importantly, it can also give those who might otherwise have been sucked into those movements a more positive way of organising against the problems of the current system.
In short, Islam will not dominate the world. However, it does offer a reactionary message that (like fascism) threatens to channel rage at the status quo along hateful and unproductive channels. That is why it must be opposed.